You might still remember that touching moment from a year ago, when Tim Hemmes, a quadriplegic man moved a mind-controlled robot arm just with his thoughts and was able to go hand in hand with his girlfriend for the first time in the seven years since his motorcycle accident. The same research project, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, has been chosen to receive one of Popular Mechanics’ Breakthrough Awards of 2012.The magazine honored Tim Hemmes, the trial participant who sustained a spinal cord injury in a 2004 motorcycle accident, and a research team led by Wei Wang, M.D., Ph.D., at an invitation-only conference and gala awards ceremony in New York City on Oct. 4. The project also will be featured in the November 2012 issue of Popular Mechanics.
“When Tim reached out with the robot arm to touch my hand, everyone who was watching burst into applause and cheered,” Dr. Wang said. “It was an amazing moment for him and our research team.”
In the trial, a grid of sensors was placed on the surface of Mr. Hemmes’ brain and the wires needed to connect with a computer were placed under the skin of his neck and chest. A computer program recorded neural signals from Mr. Hemmes’ brain while he imagined or observed arm motion. Those patterns were used to translate his thoughts to guide the actual movement of a sophisticated robot arm, which was developed by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
On Sept. 21, 2011 – the last day of a 30-day trial protocol before the brain grid and wiring were removed – Mr. Hemmes was able to control the device in three dimensions: up/down, right/left, and in/out.
According to magazine officials, Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards, now in its eighth year, are given in two categories: innovators, whose inventions will make the world smarter, safer and more efficient in the years to come, and products, which are setting benchmarks in design and engineering today.
“We are once again excited to recognize this year’s list of incredible honorees for their role in shaping the future,” said editor-in-chief James B. Meigs in the magazine’s announcement. “From a featherweight metal to the world’s fastest and most electrically efficient supercomputer, this year’s winners embody the creative spirit that the Breakthrough Awards were founded upon.”
People who have limited or no use of their arms who are interested in learning more about participating in the trial can contact research coordinator Debbie Harrington at 412-383-1355.